Having a dog who acts as a therapy-service-emotional dog is certainly an appealing thought. Your dog could travel with you anywhere; bring joy to people in need; perform charitable works; all while serving as a wonderful ambassador for your breed. It all sounds pretty wonderful on the surface, but let's dig a little deeper.
Let's talk about serving as a wonderful ambassador for your breed. If your breed of choice is a Golden Retriever, a Labrador or other gentle, joyful type, therapy-service work could be a job which is well suited to their innate friendly disposition. Since you're reading an article with Central Asian Shepherd in the title, posted on a Central Asian Shepherd breeder's website, I'm guessing your breed of choice is NOT the Golden Retriever.
The Central Asian Shepherd is a part of the Guardian group of the United Kennel Club. The FCI standard for the breed states it is a 'guard and watch dog'. Like most other breeds that fall into this category, the CAS has an intimidating look. The tightly cropped ears, muscular stature and stern gaze let strangers know to keep a respectful distance. An important aspect of a service-emotional support ,therapy dog is a cuddly, cute, puppy-esque look that immediately brings happiness to the person seeing the dog for the first time. The look of a CAS does not say “Hug me!” at first glance. The intimidating look of the CAS is the first strike against using the breed for therapy work.
The second strike is the staunchly independent nature of this breed. The CAS has a history which is deeply rooted in guarding livestock. More often than not, this task was carried out without assistance from a human shepherd. As such, the CAS is a dog which has been an independent thinker for hundreds of years. They are analytical, clever dogs who have little need for their owner's input. This trait, so deeply ingrained in the very DNA of this breed, means they have little interest in performing tasks just to please their owner. You may find it difficult to ask your CAS to perform the tasks required for therapy work if they don't find it interesting or practical.
Lastly, the third strike against using the CAS for service-emotional,therapy work, is their territorial nature and keen guarding instinct. The CAS can be raised in a pack, but it is difficult to get them to accept strange dogs from outside their circle. You may be able to train your CAS to ignore other dogs in public, but if a strange dog lunges at you or them? All bets are off. This is not a breed that will submit and remain calm when challenged by an aggressive dog. The CAS is also very adept at judging people and will not hesitate to let you know they find someone untrustworthy. Asking your CAS to allow a person to pet them, hug them, touch them etc. will not work if the dog feels there is something 'off'about that person.
While therapy work seems like a great way to get your breed out there in a very positive way, it may not actually work out that way with a guardian breed like the CAS. Even if they seem very loving and happy to accept strangers as a young dog, their territorial nature will one day kick in with maturity. You simply cannot override the DNA of the dog because you wish to prove to the world what a wonderful breed you've chosen. We all want to be good ambassadors for our chosen breed and prove to the world that they can 'do it all!', but we also need to be honest with ourselves.
If you want a loyal, loving companion for your family, who will perform the task of guarding your home, livestock and property, the CAS may be the breed for you. If you're looking for an adorable, huggable, people-loving dog to use as a therapy animal, do yourself a favor and choose a breed which has been proven as suitable to that role. It's best to respect history and the intended purpose of your breed, rather than learn a hard lesson with a lot of heartache.
For further reading on this topic, check out this excellent and in depth article -
Authored by Meredith Halfpenny
About author: Meredith Halfpenny spent the last decade owning Presa Canario dogs, a dominant guardian breed, as well as an Alapaha Blueblood Bulldog and a Shiba Inu. After many years advocating for the bully breeds, Meredith and her family decided to try something different. They imported a female Central Asian Shepherd from Moscow, Russia.When Mishka the CAS is not carefully watching over the family’s rural property, she participates in UKC shows and enjoys long hikes around Port Dover. Mishka retains the traditional build, type and temperament which respect the history of the breed as a functional, working animal.